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Tomato Sauce Substitute

You’re reaching for a can of tomato sauce for your delicious pasta dinner, and there’s nothing there. So, what do you do when you’re preparing a recipe, and the tomato sauce is missing? Here’s a tomato sauce substitute list that you can incorporate to get back to cooking that meal ASAP.

bowl filled with bright red sauce and open can labeled tomato sauce

What is tomato sauce?

Tomato sauce is most often found in the stores in a can. It is a thick, decadent, slightly sweet sauce created from tomatoes that have been sliced or pureed and then cooked. This makes the base for many sauces and dishes. If you’ve ever had homemade marinara before, the chances are that a can of tomato sauce was used as one of the first ingredients.

Depending on the source, some believe tomato sauce includes only herbs and seasonings. Other recipes note tomato sauce flavored with bacon and carrots. In France, tomato sauce originated from one of the Mother Sauces (Sauce Tomat). In this case, the sauce is started by using tomato paste or puree, then adding in pork, salt/pepper, sugar, and a roux. Then it is simmered for hours.

Tomatoes do have some nutritional benefits, including lycopene. Despite the debate – tomatoes are indeed classified as a fruit and not a vegetable. This fruit is typically used in savory dishes, which is a large reason for the fruit vs. vegetable debate.

top Five Tomato Sauce Alternatives

1. Tomato Paste

Tomato paste is most commonly used to substitute for tomato sauce, as many tomato sauce recipes include tomato paste. This paste is a concentrated version of tomato sauce. To use tomato paste, you can add water to it. Then, add your seasonings until you reach the desired flavor.

Once the paste has been combined with water, you can use it in any recipe that you would normally use tomato sauce. This is a great base for curries and soups. You’ll have a nearly identical tomato flavor as if you purchased a can of tomato sauce from the grocery store.

It will require a few steps to get the tomato paste to a similar consistency as tomato sauce.

Cooking Tip:
Use this 1:1 ratio swap for tomato sauce (once you have mixed in the water and seasoning).

2. Canned Tomatoes

Canned tomatoes also make a suitable alternative for tomato sauce, though they require a few extra steps to get it to a similar tomato sauce consistency. Included in this category are stewed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, and crushed tomatoes. This is a few additional steps than for tomato paste. Since canned tomatoes and canned tomato sauce include the same main ingredient (tomatoes), they will provide a similar flavor in dishes.
To transform canned tomatoes into tomato sauce, you’ll want to drain the liquid and blend your tomatoes. You may need to drain the blended tomatoes more or cook them in a pan for a few minutes to get the consistency correct. Then, add your seasonings to taste.

The final product will also be nearly identical to tomato sauce. You can use this like tomato sauce in any dish, including pasta sauce recipes.

Using canned tomatoes also requires a few steps to change it to taste and consistency, similar to tomato sauce. You may notice the consistency to be slightly more liquid than tomato sauce; if this does not suit your recipe – opt for tomato puree (using the modifications) above.

Cooking Tip:
Use your blended tomatoes in a 1:1 ratio as a swap for tomato sauce.

3. Marinara Sauce

The marinara sauce will work well with any Italian-style dishes you create. It has many Italian herbs mixed in, like basil, oregano, and garlic, and is thinner than tomato sauce.

You won’t need to alter marinara sauce before using it in a recipe since it is already seasoned. You can use marinara sauce for pizza, chili, and soups. Marinara sauce is often on hand in many people’s homes, so it is very accessible.

Marinara sauce already has seasonings incorporated into it that are meant to be paired with Italian-style food. This will limit the recipes you can use this substitute in. It also has more of a liquid consistency than tomato sauce. Marinara is also less sweet than tomato sauce. You’ll find the taste to be different in recipes as well.

Cooking Tip:
Use the marinara sauce in a 1:1 ratio as a sub for tomato sauce.

4. Passata

It is easy to substitute tomato sauce with tomato passata. For those who aren’t familiar with this food item, it consists of tomatoes that have been pureed and then run through a filter, so no chunks or seeds remain. It provides a similar thick consistency to what you would find in a tomato sauce.
However, there are no added seasonings to passata. It only consists of tomatoes and occasionally salt. You will need to add some spices and herbs to flavor this alternative before including it in a recipe.
This item is more commonly found in Italian kitchens or those who are well-versed in Italian cooking. This does not mean it cannot be found easily – some big retailers carry passata. It can also be ordered online if you have enough lead time.
Passata has a similar thick consistency, so it’s an excellent swap for thick soups and sauces that you normally use tomato sauce for. Starting with an unseasoned sauce can have its benefits – you’ll be able to season it for more recipes making it more versatile than an already seasoned alternative.

As noted above, tomato passata does not have any seasoning. While this does create more recipe possibilities, it also adds a few steps in the process for including it in recipes.

Cooking Tip:
Use tomato passata in a 1:1 ratio.

5. Ketchup

Ketchup is an unexpected option that can work well in certain recipes. It is a good tomato sauce alternative since both have a tomato base, so you can expect the flavor to be the same in that regard. It also has a few spices in common with tomato sauce, like onion powder.
Ketchup does have a much sweeter and tangier taste due to the ingredients included. It is best to avoid using ketchup for recipes that include a lot of tomato sauce like pasta dishes. If you’re concerned about the sugar content in ketchup, you can use one of the other alternatives instead.
It provides flavor and sweetness to dishes where small amounts are used for flavoring, like meatloaf.

It can not be used as a substitute for pizza or recipes in which tomato sauce is the star ingredient. Ketchup will also change the flavor of the dish that it is added to.

Cooking Tip:
Use ketchup in a 1:1 ratio as a substitution.


Can you use tomato paste instead of tomato sauce?

Yes, you can substitute tomato paste for tomato sauce. Once you add water and seasonings, it will have a similar consistency and flavor as tomato sauce. See the above notes for more details.

Can you substitute tomato soup for tomato sauce?

Yes, you can substitute tomato soup for tomato sauce. Tomato soup is similar to a slightly condensed version of tomato sauce. You can use one can of tomato soup diluted with ¼ cup of water to replace tomato soup – use in a 1:1 ratio.

How to make tomato sauce from tomato paste?

It is easy to make tomato sauce from tomato paste. You will need to mix ½ cup tomato paste and ½ cup water. Once combined, add seasonings to your desired taste, and you’re ready to use your own tomato sauce.


If you’re out of tomato sauce in the middle of a recipe, grab one of the above alternatives for an easy swap. Passata will be your best bet as it has the closest consistency, and the only doctoring it needs is seasoning. Canned tomatoes and tomato paste tie for second-best options as they require a few more steps before they can be incorporated into recipes.
If you still can’t find any listed alternatives, you can use fresh tomatoes or even tomato juice. Both will require additional prep before being used in recipes.

Recipes With Tomato Sauce

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Sweet Potato Shepherd’s Pie

Unstuffed Peppers Skillet

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Natalia | Flavorful home
Natalia is a recipe developer, food photographer, and home cook. She started Flavorful Home to document easy real food recipes perfect for busy families. She loves creating flavorful and nutritious meals while keeping the cooking process simple and joyful!

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